[A2k] Casey Rae-Hunter: Online piracy bills are flawed

Manon Ress manon.ress at keionline.org
Thu Jan 5 08:33:57 PST 2012

Online piracy bills are flawed

By Casey Rae-Hunter, deputy director, Future of Music Coalition -
01/04/12 11:07 AM ET

The music industry has a long history of telling artists to “shut up
and sing.” Which is why the internet has been so important in
amplifying the voices of musicians of every conceivable background.
It’s also why artists should be wary when powerful entertainment
conglomerates push for polices that could undermine free expression,
all the while claiming to speak for creators.

Congress is currently considering a pair of well-intentioned but
deeply flawed pieces of legislation that threaten to fundamentally
change how the internet works. Hollywood and the labels back these
bills, which are rightfully being questioned by the broader arts
community, from artists and managers to writers and performers.

The bills in question — PROTECT-IP (PIPA) in the Senate and the Stop
Online Piracy ACT (SOPA) in the House — have the stated goals of
making it more difficult for Americans to access websites that traffic
in unauthorized U.S. intellectual property. There’s no doubt that
foreign-based sites selling MP3s and movies without permission need to
be dealt with. The question is how. These bills are the digital
equivalent of hazardous tuna nets, except in this case it’s speech,
and not dolphins, that risk being ensnared.

Both bills would give the attorney general the power to compel
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to stop “resolving” website names as
a means of preventing access to the allegedly infringing sites. Not
only does this approach have serious implications for cybersecurity
and the functionality of the internet, it is ridiculously easy to get
around. The underlying content remains right where it is — any user
seeking the material could simply enter the site’s numeric I.P.
address to reach it. (There are numerous browser plug-ins that can do
this automatically.)

The digital marketplace is still growing. In fact, digital revenues
have increased by more than 1000 percent in the last six years. There
are several services through which independent artists can make their
works available in online stores like iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.
YouTube continues to be a leader in video, and is partnering with
individual creators and content companies alike on potentially
rewarding new business models. Increased consumer interest in legal,
licensed services is something to be proud of in an entertainment
industry that has had a difficult time transitioning. It is this very
ecosystem that current policy proposals threaten.

The definitions in SOPA, for example, are so overly broad as to
include sites and services that musicians, filmmakers, writers and
millions of other Americans use every day. We’re not doing artists —
and fans — any favors by forcing sites that serve up user-generated
content to police their networks for fear of liability. Had currently
proposed enforcement policies been in place a decade ago, many
powerhouse platforms now crucial to the creative sector would never
have gotten off the ground.

Some argue that these bills simply extend the powers already available
to domestic law enforcement to make it easier to go after “rogue”
sites based overseas. While it’s true that the US is already seizing
web properties through the Department of Homeland Security’s
Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division, this program is
hardly an unqualified success. When law enforcement censored popular
hip-hop blog Dajaz1.com, it took a year to return property that ICE
itself admitted was improperly seized. Turns out, a major label’s
promotions team had been providing MP3s to the site. Guess who ordered
the takedown the first place? The RIAA.

Today’s dynamic music marketplace often involves pre-releasing music
as a key promotional strategy. Which is why due process becomes even
more important when government undertakes enforcement efforts.
Lawmakers may be trying to solve a problem without a clear
understanding of how creators actually do business in an evolving
digital ecosystem. It is incumbent on artists to tell them.

There are alternatives that could provide rightsholders with relief
without the risk of collateral damage. By taking a follow-the-money
approach (with due process provisions), Congress could prevent the
internet’s true bad actors from profiting off of American intellectual

Rather than rushing through flawed bills of questionable benefit,
Congress should do more to promote a legitimate digital marketplace
built on access, innovation and equitable compensation for all
creators. The future of music depends on it.

Casey Rae-Hunter is deputy director for the Future of Music Coalition,
a DC based nonprofit for musicians and composers. He's also a
professor of music and technology at Georgetown University.

Manon Anne Ress
Knowledge Ecology International
1621 Connecticut Ave, NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20009 USA
manon.ress at keionline.org

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